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Witches, Whores, and Virgin Martyrs: Female Roles in Seventeenth Century Opera


The fictional women presented to the public on the opera stages and in the noble houses of Italy during the seventeenth century did not resemble the societal feminine ideal of chastity, silence, obedience, and humility; on the contrary, they were strong-willed, eloquent, powerful, and sexually sentient. This dissertation will examine a few of the principal female characters from a selected number of early seventeenth-century operas and explore what these women represented in context of the patriarchal, highly misogynistic societies in which they were constructed. Furthermore, I will consider the implications of this information for issues of modern performance practice, and for the representation of these female characters in modern reproductions of the operas. Finally, I will discuss the influences of this research on my final DMA recital, a program of seventeenth-century arias and songs which personified the female stereotypes presented in this dissertation.

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